European Threat Perspective

The connected electrician

Author : Sean Miller, Electrician Programme Manager at Schneider Electric

19 August 2020

Competitive prices, expertise and unbeatable customer service make a successful electrician. Yet, in today’s day and age, being connected is your killer advantage. Digital is big business, with McKinsey predicting it to generate $11.1 trillion a year by 2025. If a contractor can adopt digital products and offerings, they have an edge on the competition and success will follow.

However, a connected future isn’t always an easy one. Connectivity has made unprecedented services possible, but it also places a big responsibility on electricians to get things right. If you want to provide the best, most competitive service today you need to do your homework on what technologies are out there and how to install them.

Connectivity in context

As technology evolves, so do customer expectations. That’s true of both the commercial and residential sectors. Building managers want complex systems with connected sensors that feed them real-time updates on equipment health; homeowners are demanding smart home heating systems they can control from their smartphones. That’s a far cry from just wiring a fuse box.

The electrical industry is no stranger to change, but will everyone be able to keep up? Change is happening now, it’s happening to everything, and it’s happening faster than ever. By 2025 an estimated 26-36 billion devices at home and in the workplace will be equipped with sensors, processers and embedded software. Technology can be disruptive, and disruption can sometimes be frightening if you’re just trying to hold on. Yet while connectivity has a learning curve, it opens new doors for those willing to buy in.

So, how does being connected help you become a better electrician? You have to remember that every stage of the customer journey now has a connected component. Your customers will find you online while browsing on their phones, but it doesn’t stop there. By using connected devices in your installations, you become more connected to the customer, and when they realise the benefits of your connected offering, they will come to you again and again. It’s the foundation of a long-lasting customer relationship. 

The main benefit of connectivity is insight. Depending on where it is installed in a circuit, an IoT-connected sensor can tell a building manager or homeowner many things – from their energy consumption to the health of their equipment. Having this information saves money, reveals opportunities and stops problems before they happen.

As a result, there are great opportunities for digitally skilled electricians in commercial buildings. The buildings and construction sectors account for 36 percent of global energy consumption – over the next 20 years, there is the potential of savings of over a quarter in space heating and more than 20 percent in water heating. This means that if your commercial customer isn’t thinking about insight-driven efficiency now, they will be very soon.   

To make the most of this opportunity, you must remember that your role as an electrician doesn’t have to be just giving customers electricity. You can increase your value-add as a connected consultant, able to empower them with insight and optimise operations for the better. 

Work smart, work fast, work safe

Connectivity and insight don’t just benefit the customer, they benefit you. For example, when you’re called in for maintenance or repairs, having a pool of data to draw from the connected devices you installed will drastically speed up your workflow. Hours of manual inspection can be replaced by minutes of reading a series of data points. 

When supported by insight, you can isolate and resolve a problem much faster. You’ll develop a reputation for speed and efficiency and make it more likely that the customer will call on you again. By working smarter, you work faster. This means you can get more work done is less time, offer more competitive prices and focus on what matters most – growing your customer base and business.

Schneider Electric’s Acti9 Isobar P distribution board is a good demonstration of how connectivity saves contractors time. With a plug-in RCBO, the board demands much less wiring, cutting installation times by around 50 percent, ensuring a faster, more competitive job. 

Connectivity also makes you safer by putting another layer between you and the live equipment. There’s an inherent danger in every job, whether it’s from electrical shocks or arc flashes. Yet the risks to health and life they pose are greatly diminished when connected technologies are able to do much of the dangerous work for you. What’s more, when an application has more software components than hardware, there is much less of a risk from degrading equipment and more problems can be solved remotely.

With some of today’s digital tools, a contractor can check or even perform maintenance on a device without ever having to touch the enclosure. For example, Schneider Electric’s MasterPact MTZ circuit breakers can connect to an operator’s phone through a smartphone app. Instead of having to open up a distribution board and manually check where a problem might be, a contractor only has to download the app and it will indicate what’s wrong.

Connectivity, of course, is also safer for the customer. When the capabilities are in place for connected monitoring and detection, potential dangers can be flagged and resolved before they can snowball into a larger problem. You don’t need to wait until a scheduled check-up before a potentially dangerous fault is discovered. With connected solutions that feed customers real-time insight across their assets, repairs and maintenance can also be performed on a proactive rather than reactive basis. This means less downtime and safer, happier customers.

The lesson for electricians is not rest on your laurels and wait for the connected world come to you. It’s already here, so you need to adapt to it. Fortunately, the benefits far outweigh the cost. It used to be that wiring up a distribution board required an experienced electrician with many years under their belt. With plug-in components and a configurator app, an apprentice can now do it in under two hours. That’s the beauty of connectivity. It lowers the bar for entry but raises the bar for the services you can offer to customers.

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European Threat Perspective

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